Saturday, December 19, 2009

The All-Decade Team: The Best College Basketball Players of the 2000's

Now that I’m home for break, I’ve had plenty of time to dissect the best and brightest of the past decade. You’ve seen my assessment of the top 10 college basketball games of the 2000s, and now I’m going to get a little more particular with the 10 best players of the decade. This list was considerably harder to compile; players, while easier to remember than individual games, are also much more difficult to grade.

With the advent of the mandatory one year of play rule in college basketball, there have been several once-in-a-generation talents to come through the hardwoods of America in recent years. Some, like Carmelo Anthony, led their teams to national titles, while others, like T.J. Ford, Kevin Durant, and Michael Beasely (among others), changed the face of the game and compiled some extensive national hardware in the process. Evaluating the impact of one-and-done players was an especially difficult aspect of this process, but in coming up with this list I took a few key factors into account: individual success (measured by scoring averages, etc.), team success, and overall impact on the game during their time in college.

There’s sure to be a lot of debate about this one, but here goes my list of the 10 best college basketball players of the 2000s. Like my last top 10 list, there are a couple of ties, as some players were nearly impossible to separate, and indeed were almost never mentioned apart from each other during their time in college, while others were simply too good to leave out, and I had to find some way to include them.

10. Stephen Curry, Davidson

-Curry announced his arrival to the college basketball scene in a big way, scoring 32 points in his second career game against Michigan in 2005. He averaged 21.5 points per game as a freshman, setting the NCAA freshman record for 3 pointers in a season, and was selected to represent the U.S. in the FIBA U19 World Championships. In his sophomore campaign, he led Davidson to the Elite 8, scoring 40, 30, and 33 in upsets of Gonzaga, Georgetown, and Wisconsin before coming within a missed 3 of the Final Four. He averaged just shy of 29 points per game during his junior season, although the Wildcats just missed out on the tournament. Curry changed the face of mid-major basketball forever, and improved vastly during his 3 years in the college game. He never shied away from the spotlight, playing up to the stellar competition of March Madness. He had a great handle, elite basketball intelligence, and had one of the quickest releases I have ever seen in a shooter. The kid could get a shot off from anywhere, at any time. In the 2009 NBA Draft, Golden State selected Curry with the 7th overall pick.

9. Emeka Okafor, Connecticut

-The man originally named Chukwuemeka Ndubuisi Okafor was the best defensive player this decade has ever seen. Although hindered by injuries for much of the 2003-04 season, Okafor played a huge role in leading the Huskies to their second national title in 6 seasons, during which he was named the NCAA Tourney’s Most Outstanding Player. During that season he was named Defensive Player of the Year, leading the nation in blocks and setting the stage for UConn to do the same for the next five years.

8. (tie) Adam Morrison, Gonzaga; J.J.Redick, Duke

-During the 2005-06 season you could hardly turn on the T.V. without hearing these two superstars mentioned in the same breath. They ended up being co-National Players of the Year and were the face of college basketball for this star-studded season. Redick finished his career as the NCAA record holder for career 3 pointers, but developed a formidable slashing and driving game as he matured under the guidance of Coach K. Morrison became one of the more surprising NBA busts, selected 3rd overall by the Charlotte Bobcats. In college, however, his all-court game was spectacular, with a mid-range game that drew many comparisons to Larry Bird.

7. (tie) Carmelo Anthony, Syracuse; Joakim Noah, Florida

-Although he didn’t have the numbers of Beasley or Durant, Anthony certainly dominated the college game during his brief stay at Syracuse. What’s more, he led the Orange to their first and only national title in 2003, over Kansas. Anthony was named a Second Team All-American, and was the best player in a tournament that included Dwyane Wade, Kirk Hinrich, Nick Collison, and T.J. Ford. He would go on to become a star in the NBA. Had he not won an NCAA championship, Anthony may not have made the list, but how many freshman have we seen put their team on their back and take them to a title? I may get some disagreement from my choice of Noah. Noah played a stellar three seasons in Gainesville, and was the best and most highly regarded player on Florida’s repeat national championship teams. Had he declared for the draft after the Gators’ first championship run, he may have been taken first or second overall. That’s all speculation, but what isn’t is that he was the leader of a team that accomplished one of the most difficult feats in sports: winning back-to-back titles.

6. (tie) Jameer Nelson, St. Joseph's; Juan Dixon, Maryland

-Nelson stayed all four years in Philly, leading the Hawks to a 30-1 regular season and within a shot of the Final Four during his senior season, which culminated with winning the Wooden and Naismith Awards. One of the great four year college players of the decade, Nelson has gone on to become one of the better point guards in the NBA, and his role as the head of St. Joseph’s remarkable 2004 run won’t soon be forgotten. Dixon was not going to be denied a title the 2002 NCAA Tournament, which culminated in a championship victory over Jared Jeffries and the Indiana Hoosiers. Dixon is the only player in NCAA history to record 2,000 points, 300 steals, and 200 3 pointers. He was the undisputed leader of an NCAA Champion, and any time you’re the only man in college basketball history to do anything, you’re something special.

5. (tie) Kevin Durant and Michael Beasley, Kansas State

-Hard to think of these two separately. Although they played in different seasons, no two players dominated college basketball as freshman like Durant and Beasley. Both won Big 12 Player of the Year and National Freshman of the Year honors during their singular campaigns, with Durant also winning National Player of the Year honors, an unprecedented accomplishment for a freshman. Both of these players were clearly NBA-ready, and it showed, giving college basketball fans the world over a brief glimpse of unparalleled greatness.

4. Blake Griffin, Oklahoma

-Griffin was a freak of nature during his 2 stellar seasons in Norman. No one was more dominant, more feared, or more successful than Griffin during his sophomore season, during which he had about as good a season as a player can have. He had 30 double-doubles, and won a few awards during his remarkable campaign: Wooden Award, Naismith Award, Unanimous First Team All-American, SI Player of the Year, Sporting News Player of the Year, Oscar Robertson Award, and Adolph Rupp Award. Anybody who watched him play knows what a dominant force he was, and I don’t think we’ll see another forward like him for a long, long time.

3. Jason “Jay” Williams, Duke

-One of the sadder stories in basketball of the decade was nevertheless a shining star during his three years at Duke. Williams was involved in a serious motorcycle accident that ended his promising NBA career far too soon, but anyone who watched him play in college knows what an impact he had on the game. He led Duke to a national title in 2001, won the Naismith and Wooden Awards in 2002, and finished his three year career in Durham with over 2,000 points and a retired jersey at Cameron Indoor Stadium. His career blossomed early, as he secured National Freshman of the Year honors during his first season at Duke.

2. Shane Battier, Duke

-One of the greatest college basketball players of all time, Battier stayed all four years under Coach K. He led the Dukies to 2 national championship games and a title in 2001. He was as much a defensive star as he was an offensive force, taking home National Defensive Player of the Year honors 3 teams. He remains a defensive juggernaut in the NBA, and although his offense has declined considerably with his national recognition, this was certainly not true of his brilliant college career.

1. Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina

-As much as many of you, including me, may have hated Psycho T during his career at North Carolina, there isn’t a person in the world who wouldn’t have killed to have him on their team, and I don’t think there will be much disagreement over his merits as the top player of the decade. He averaged 20 points and 8 boards over his four years, and swept all of college basketball’s individual honors after his senior season, which culminated in a dominant run as national champions, the final piece missing from his spectacular career. He wasn’t the smoothest or the most athletic player, but his tenacity and will to win was unmatched in the college game. His individual accolades are too extensive to list here, but he is the ACC’s all-time leading scorer and my choice for the top college basketball player of the 2000s.

1 comment:

  1. Most Hated Player of the Decade: Joakim Noah

    That he-she was so much more unlikeable than Psycho T. Hansbrough worked his butt off but he was never a glory hog and by the time he was a senior he wasn't the center of attention on his own team (that would be Ty Lawson).

    Noah was such a lil' bitch. I wish that pyscho New Mexico girls soccer player would've yanked him down by his hair as he pounded his chest and barked incoherently about himself and his "Gator Boys."